Fun_People Archive
20 Dec
Old songs, new lyrics

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed, 20 Dec 100 16:35:32 -0800
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Subject: Old songs, new lyrics

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	Old songs, new lyrics
	Altered stanzas expand the meaning of familiar Christmas carols
	By Nancy Haught of The Oregonian staff
The Oregonian
Thursday, December 14, 2000

	Hark! The carols that you sing,
	  May just have a different ring.
	Peace on Earth and mercy mild
	  Now with justice reconciled.
	Hopeful consciousness will rise,
	  Join the movement; don't crack wise.
	With new words, old tunes proclaim:
	  Traditions don't just stay the same.
	Hark! The carols that you sing
	  May show some signs of tinkering.

Which may, or may not, be a good thing, depending on whether you're a strict
literalist when it comes to Christmas carols or you're willing to tweak
tradition to make a point.

Gerald Iversen is a tweaker.  He is the national coordinator of Alternatives
for Simple Living, a 25-year-old effort to -- to use the organization's
own refrain -- "equip people of faith to challenge consumerism, live justly
and celebrate responsibly."  The group's latest effort, new this year, is
a collection of alternative verses to "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and
16 other familiar Christmas carols.

If history teaches us anything it's that Christmas carols are a resilient
and persistent phenomenon.  In his book "The Penguin Book of Carols," Ian
Bradley traces the pagan roots of carols.  The genre we know now as a hybrid
of hymn, folk song and sacred ballad was adopted by the Christian church
in the Middle Ages, suppressed by Puritans after the Reformation, reinstated
at the Restoration, reinvented by the Victorians and rewritten by the
moderns.  Iversen isn't the first to fiddle with Christmas carols.

His organization's new stanzas sound calls for social justice, concern for
the Earth and discipleship through simpler living.

"Jesus' birth has taken on much more cultural significance as a celebration
of good will, warm feelings and excessive consumerism," Iversen said.
"These stanzas help to connect his birth with our real-life discipleship."

For example, the traditional lyrics to "O Little Town of Bethlehem" describe
Jesus' birth, while the Alternatives stanza, by John Becker, challenges
Christians to look beyond the birth of Christ to what lives truly lived
according to his teachings might look like.

Alternatives' verse to "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen," by Cynthia A.
Douglas, doesn't mince words, either.

Here's the old:

	God rest you merry, gentlemen,
	  Let nothing you dismay.
	For Jesus Christ, our savior,
	  Was born upon this day
	To save us all from Satan's power
	  When we were gone astray.
	Oh, tidings of comfort and joy . . .

Here's the new:

	Now he is come to all the world,
	  This lesson to impart
	If we're to show his love there must
	  Be action on our part
	To feed the poor, protect the weak,
	  Show kindness from the heart,
	Oh, tidings of comfort and joy . . .

Iversen intends his group's new verses to be sung along with traditional
ones, not in their place.  While Alternatives wants to expand the lessons
of traditional carols, others have focused on the language of the lyrics
themselves.  Most recent efforts to do so are born of a desire to make
carols more inclusive by substituting gender-neutral language for the
traditional masculine references to God, Christ and mankind.

In the groundbreaking "New Century Hymnal," published by The Pilgrim Press
in 1995 and used in many United Church of Christ congregations, the
traditional "O come let us adore him" became "O come in adoration."

Editors of other hymnals have resisted pressure to alter Christmas carol
lyrics.  Oregon Catholic Press, whose song books and missals are used in
60 percent of the Catholic parishes in the United States, has changed the
words to only one Christmas carol, said Paulette McCoy, editorial director
of the Portland-based press.

"We tested the waters," she said, with "Good Christian Men Rejoice," making
it "Good Christians All Rejoice."  Response to that single change, made
almost 10 years ago, has been pretty evenly mixed, said Randy DeBruyn,
executive director of worship publications.  While he and McCoy encourage
contemporary composers to write inclusively, both are loath to change the
words of sacred songs that the faithful most likely know by heart,
especially Christmas carols.

New lyrics can jar worshippers, McCoy said, breaking the reverent
concentration of song.  "St. Augustine said that singing is like praying
twice," she said.

"These songs have sacred reverberations in the hearts and minds of many
people of faith," DeBruyn said.  McCoy offered her own cautionary refrain.
"Changing the words to Christmas carols," she said, "is like changing 'The
Star-Spangled Banner.'"

So far, it's unclear to what degree "the world in solemn stillness lay" to
hear Iversen's "Carols with Justice."  Alternatives has posted sample lyrics
on its Web site, <> (click on the "Resources" button,
then on "Whose Birthday" and finally on "Story" or call 800-821-6153), and
charges only nominal fees for e-mail or paper copies of the collection.

So far, Iversen said, response has been good.  "The opposition we expected
hasn't materialized."  So far, All is calm.  All is bright.

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